California finally has the opportunity to be governable after last week’s election. For too many years the ability to set policy has been obstructed by a system that allows for minority veto.
Our revenue and expenditure systems have no nexus and need an overhaul. Our education system is antiquated, our energy and environmental policies need to be accelerated, our infrastructure rebuilt and our economy reinfused.
With the leadership of Gov. Jerry Brown and democratic super majorities in the legislature, the opportunity of a generation is now. Brown is the perfect governor to lead the overhaul.
He’s not a spendthrift, and this is neither a time for massive government spending nor a time to reward all of the democratic constituencies with benefits. In fact, that approach would not serve any of these constituencies in the long term. The key is to reform the governing system in California—a system that badly needs overhaul.
Brown is not timid about reform, innovation and the future. Once called Governor Moonbeam, many of the ideas Brown advanced in his first tenure proved to be omnipotent. Had California boldly gone where Brown wanted to take the state in the 70s, we would have been far ahead of the curve economically, educationally and institutionally.
But his first term was a different era. Instead of moving the state forward, a more conservative population implemented Proposition 13 by ballot initiative. The voter revolt and political success of Prop. 13 led to an all-out assault on representative government. The initiative replaced thoughtful legislation as the way for special interests to succeed in our state.
New initiatives, like Prop. 98, locked up spending. New revenue options, even small and reasonable adjustments, were non-existent because of minority obstruction. Tax revenue is tied to the boom and bust economy, and no thought is given to long-term fiscal reform. California has languished as a result.
There are those who caution against over-reaching with a new majority. That will not happen under Brown. He is nothing if not frugal. But Brown has an opportunity to fundamentally reform our broken system of government. He has the knowledge and vision to do what once seemed implausible.
From our antiquated education system, to our bloated prison population, to our failure to garnish revenue from obvious sources—California is the only state, for instance, not to tax oil production—a new paradigm must be created if California is to get out to its current negative governance. The opportunity is now.
With no obstructionists in the way, Gov. Brown can remake the governing system that has burdened California for too long. In doing so, he will be able to implement many of the ideas he had as a younger man.
The difference is the people of California are now 30 years removed from the vision of that younger governor. While they once balked at innovation, change and reform, they now embrace it. They’re ready to accept his previous vision, which they didn’t understand and rejected years ago, from renewable energy and environmental progress to education reform and fiscal responsibility.
Ironically, had we listened to the younger Jerry Brown, we would not have had to go through the pain of the last 20 years. But progress delayed is not progress denied.
Brown was 30 years ahead of his time in his first tenure as Governor. Like many visionaries, he was ridiculed for his futuristic agenda as most were unaware of the coming changes in technology, the environment and the economy. The people of California were stuck in a mindset that didn’t incorporate the vast changes occurring at the time. Now, the electorate is much more willing to accept what Brown was selling in the past.
Few political visionaries get a second bite at the apple or have the requisite circumstances to fulfill their agenda. By outliving his political rivals and remaining a political force in the long term, Gov. Brown has that opportunity. He should make the most of it.
Rich Robinson is a political consultant in Silicon Valley.